In a new initiative by the official four-day week campaign, hundreds of British workers will gain greater flexibility over their working hours.

This six-month pilot project, building on a successful 2022 trial, will allow employees to choose flexible start and finish times, work a nine-day fortnight, or compress their hours.

Six businesses have already signed up, and the campaign aims to involve around 3,000 employees and 50 companies. The UK’s largest union, Unison, along with several prominent firms, support the experiment. However, some companies that previously adopted the four-day week have since reverted to traditional schedules.

Joe Ryle, the campaign’s director, stated, “Hundreds of British companies and one local council have already shown a four-day week with no loss of pay can be a win-win for workers and employers.”

The campaign is underpinned by research from Cambridge University and Boston College. Bron Afon Community Housing, a Welsh community housing landlord, is among the first to join the latest trial. Director Unji Mathur praised the positive impact of a shorter working week on both organisational performance and employee wellbeing and retention. She sees the trial as an opportunity to further improve employees’ work-life balance.

According to the campaign group, 54 of the 61 companies that participated in the original trial have maintained the four-day week a year and a half later.

Four-Day Week: Successes and Setbacks

Sophie Greaves, a research chemist in Liverpool, benefits from flexible start and end times. She can begin her shift anytime between 07:00 and 10:00, and leave eight hours later. “People really are productive if they can manage their own time,” she says, appreciating the flexibility for varied daily schedules.

Conversely, Asda recently halted its four-day week trial after staff found the longer shifts too demanding. Under the trial, store managers worked 45 hours across four days. However, other elements of the trial, such as a five-day, 39-hour week, were more well-received.

Morrisons also ended its four-day week trial for corporate staff in Bradford in January. Employees were required to work 37.5 hours across four days, with occasional Saturday shifts. Ryle criticised this setup, noting it didn’t align with the campaign’s definition of a four-day week, which is 32 hours over four days.

Alternative Approaches

While the UK explores flexible working hours, other countries are taking different approaches. Greece, for example, recently introduced a six-day working week for certain industries to boost productivity and economic growth. This policy applies to businesses operating 24-hours a day, offering workers an extra 40 percent pay for overtime.

Ryle plans to present the results of this second UK trial to the newly-elected Labour government next year. “With a new Labour government, change is in the air and we hope to see employers embracing this change by signing up to our pilot,” he said.

Kate Palmer, Employment Services Director at Peninsula, says “Flexible working has been a hot topic for the new Labour government, with a pledge to make flexible working the default position, when reasonably practicable. However, whether this includes a four-day working week rather than a hybrid or remote working structure is unclear. Whilst a four-day working week may be a welcome introduction to many workers, there are still practical challenges which employers need to be prepared for – and it may not suit every business model. Businesses who offer flexible and hybrid working practices are finding themselves more able to attract talent whereas those who favour completely office-based roles can sometimes struggle with recruitment and retention.

“However, we have seen a drive with many employers back towards full time in office working. A four-day work week is not without its challenges. To make such a change, employers would first need to seek agreement from their staff and amend contracts and policies as necessary. They would also need to review their working practices and put measures in place to enable staff to complete their work during these shorter hours. Whilst a shorter working week sounds like it would be a positive for most employees, having to complete the same amount of work and hit the same productivity levels as previously can lead to increased work-related stress or burnout. It’s all about finding the balance that works for each individual business and the people within.”

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.